Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015: The Warden and the Wolf King: Sea Dragons. A Desperate Quest. And the Final Battle for the Shining Isle. (The Wingfeather Saga Book 4) – Andrew Peterson

The Wingfeather Saga is now complete.  Peterson went unconventional with four books instead of the standard trilogy. All of the main characters are here, and there is just so much going on that it is hard to understand how all the pieces are going to tie together until all of a sudden it is wrapped up and Peterson thanks you for reading his series.

The Warden and the Wolf King is by far the best of the series. There are certainly some cliché moments that I will try and avoid for the sake of not spoiling anything. But even in the clichés, there is this understanding that there is no other way around it. The things that happen have to happen and they change the course of events in the books. In that regard it is easy to forgive Peterson. He at least did a great job of using those types of events to his own means and advantage.

The first thing I liked about this particular book was the structure. There are four distinct sections based on the four locations where action takes place. Instead of chronology what we have is the story of a region to its completion. That is a nice change of pace. Certain characters appear in-and-out of certain places because they are integral to the story, but overall you feel like the story of each locale is complete.

In this story each of the main characters really becomes who they were supposed to be. Where they were frail or weak, each of them becomes strong and determined. This is most seen in Kalmar who  as you can suspect from the title becomes the king he should be.

Instead of spoilers, let me comment on one thing that Peterson did a pretty good job with, and that is his incorporation of religion and spirituality. I say pretty good, because books 1-3 are scant with details, but book 4 hones in on the message. That made parts of his religious take frustrating. The Wingfeathers do not seem much the religious type until book 4. But in reality…who is?

Most people seem to understand this whole God thing better in the midst of things, not just in day-to-day life.  Religion comes to play in the end because for these people it really is what comes out of them. They are people of faith, not people of doubt. When the pressure was applied what emerged was an understanding that the divine was real. They may struggle against the divine or think that the Maker was doing things backwards, but they nonetheless believed the Maker was real.

And instead of presenting God in some black-and-white descriptions Peterson allows his characters to experience faith in the terms that Christians do. Characters say, “I don’t know how, but,” and “I know I will know what to do when the time comes,” as opposed to saying things like, “This is the truth no matter what and if you don’t believe you will die.” In other words, they deal with faith not rules and that is nice.

Wingfeather did not become my favorite series, but it did become a series I would gladly read again. It is wistful, it’s fast-paced and above all a story that both you and your kids can enjoy.

2015: The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is quite frankly an odd little book. I called my friend Byron to talk about it since he had read it previously and was the one to tell me about it. We not only discussed the book’s oddity, but Rothfuss’s defense of the book in an author’s note. Byron’s take on that was, “He’s basically saying if you don’t get it you’re not enlightened.” And I can certainly see that. What I got from the author’s note was, “I know this book doesn’t follow conventions, but I like for some reason…and so do a lot of my writer friends.” And that should tell you what type of book this is; this is the type of book where you start off talking about an author’s note about the book instead of the primary text itself. This is that kind of book.

So, beyond that, what type of book is this; where does it fit in my current reading? Let me start by saying this book concerns one of the characters from the Kingkiller Chronicles, but it really doesn’t have much of anything to do with the importance of the story (at least as far as I can tell…and I think it would be a stretch for Rothfuss to make this an important part of the storyline). This book is about Auri. She is the odd lady who lives under the university, not the warrior from book two (that is Tempi). She has a special relationship with Kvothe, and as Slow Regard reveals, she really is this odd little creature of a woman. She has problems, but she know she has problems. She does thinks in odd ways, but those ways are nonetheless orderly. And she above all understands and controls her world.

One of the reasons I connect with this book, is because it regards the relationships of inanimate objects. (Wait…you connect with that? Yes! Yes, I do.) As a kid I was always making sure my toys were with the right toys and that they had a good time. I name my musical instruments and cars and apologize to my current car when I do something stupid. I think there are lots of us who do those things. Sure, I know that this thing has no soul and no emotions, but sometimes when things like bad oil or gas affect the way my car runs, it seems like it has emotions. I’ve seen certain cars that seem to be temperamental. They only start a certain way, or do some other such thing.

That is Auri’s world. She is organizing the Underthing and has to make sure that everything has its place. She moves things from room-to-room and understands the relationships of that candle to that gear, and that piece of moss to the carpet. But the thing is she is also incredibly intelligent. She can do things like make her own candles, provide food for herself, make soap and basically understand how to keep things as they should be. So in that sense it was quite an interesting book, even if it is really odd and unconventional.

2015: The Monster in the Hollow: Sneakery. Betrayal. And the Deadly Secret of Chimney Hill. (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 3) – Andrew Peterson

Book 3 of Wingfeather was by far the slowest paced book so far in the series…except when it wasn’t. I finished one book I started after Wingfeather simply because this was a slower build-up, but moreso, because The Bark of the Bog Owl and A Wise Man’s Fear were really captivating. Had I known what the ending of The Monster in the Hollows would have been like, I might have shifted the order. The ending was so good I skipped books I was already reading to launch into the final book The Warden and the Wolf King. What I enjoyed most was the Tolkien-style launching into multiple stories at one time. Much of the story has surrounded Janner, but for a few brief chapters we started following Sara Cobbler. Just the small departure showed that Peterson was able to risk the formula for the development of the story, which I greatly appreciated.

Another enjoyable piece of this work was playing on the book title. Often times the book title can be cleverly found at a distinct part of the novel. Here it is played with throughout. Who or what is the monster? Is it that person? Is it this thing? Just when you are settled into your understanding of the monster it shifts because the basket your eggs were in just slowly unraveled…which is messy because now you only have your hands or maybe the bottom of your shirt to carry your eggs in.

The long, slow build-up of tension in the Green Hollows eventually led to a great ending by Peterson. He gives you puzzle pieces that you may have discounted as random facts until you start piecing together the ending. Oh that quirky thing that such and such character can do…yeah, it’s important and not trivial. Oh…that thing that you know happened, and you hated it…well, it was for a much bigger purpose than you ever could have anticipated. Without giving too much away it is fair to say that this is the emotionally satisfying and heartbreaking book of the series so far. It also holds a lot more angst as Janner grows into his identity and the other characters make similar strides.

One thing that I found difficult, although, if I were to be honest helped me understand Kalmar a little more were a few illustrations in the book. The illustration of Janner was a bit frustrating, but to see just how wolf-like Kalmar was helped inform the story. When kids tease him, and people gawk at Kalmar you begin to wonder just what he looks like. Seeing him illustrated helps you understand, “Oh my. You are basically a wolf that can walk on two legs.” This reminded me of my friend Julia when she told me she did not want to watch the Harry Potter movies. She had in her head a distinct visualization of the character that she did not want to adjust…I get that now.

My friends the Webbs told me that Wingfeather would become one of my favorite book series. After the first book I doubted, after the second I still doubted. After the third…I am starting to change my mind and look forward to the conclusion of the series.

2015: Kindness Goes Unpunished (Walt Longmire #3) – Craig Johnson

Kindness is easily the weakest of the first three of the Longmire series. Johnson weaves this crazy net of people. The problem is…they’re in Philadelphia…and I suspect that we’re going back to Wyoming for book 4 after a little bit of recovery time for Cady Longmire. In a sense this was a terrible introduction to the main touchpoint of Walt’s life…his daughter, and seemingly only remaining family. Although the story moved to Philadelphia for this book we still have Bear and Vic making important appearances. But some of the other characters we know are just given a brief “they still exist” line in the book.

I think Johnson understands murder as the primary source of crime material. Maybe that has something to do with the genre, maybe it has something to do with Walt. In this edition, Walt goes to Philadelphia with Bear. Bear has an art show, Walt needs to meet Cady’s new man. The problem is, the day he gets there (SPOILER ALRET) Cady is involved with an accident that is no accident that lands her in the ER. Vic’s family takes care of Walt. Bear of course helps,  but is busy with his own ventures.

So, in comes a new series of characters from Philadelphia. Most revolve around Vic. Her time on the force left their mark on everyone…also her dad is a big wig. The story boils down to this: lots of murders, and lots of “Walt you shouldn’t be doing anything, but you’re doing things. Stop doing things. Things will get you in trouble. Why aren’t you killed because of things?” So, in that sense we now have the trouble of a Wyoming sheriff being out of jurisdiction when it comes to his daughter’s attack.

What did I like about Kindness? Bear. I liked Bear. He is the steadfast character who Walt needs. I really like Bear. In case I am not clear yet…Bear is like a verifiable mancrush. Bear. BEAR!!!

Vic’s mom is also a great surprise. She is the perfect foil and companion for Walt in this novel.  Her brothers are also pretty great. I don’t really care about much else from this Philadelphia story except for one tidbit, but I’m gonna warn you to stop reading right here if you don’t want a MAJOR SPOILER!!!

Okay…you’re still here, so guess what…Walt and Vic have sex. That caught me way off guard. It also surprised me how Johnson wrote about sex. I suspected that if he ever approached the topic of Walt and sex it would be more inferring than, well, wowzers writing a steamy little love story what enough descriptors that you know HOW they are having sex. So…that happened. I think it will be interesting to know how that plays out back home. Does this mess with Walt? Does it mess with Vic? Does anyone else know or even need to know? I think it is one of the best plot points for the series to come out of the book, along with what I assume to be Cady moving home (since she appears in the television series).

So…that is Kindness. Will I still read Book 4? Most certainly. They just might get bumped from a small let down here…and because I am starting a doctoral program and need to start on those books!

2015: A Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 2 – Patrick Rothfuss

As entertaining and engaging as I found The Name of the Wind, A Wise Man’s Fear actually surpassed it. The scope is larger, the long introduction of Kvothe is unnecessary, so the story can unfold a little more quickly. The second book in the series actually guides you in the direction of better questions to ask than the first. It is easier to know which characters to invest in, and you begin to see change and growth beyond Kvothe himself.

Rothfuss is a talented writer no doubt, and from what I have gleaned outside the books he really enjoys the community of his readership. He is till touring A Wise Man’s Fear and his third book, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which focuses on Auri instead of Kvothe. He is promoting the work of other author’s in the same vein of writing; and he has a mind to make positive change in the world. I think in that regard I forgive the wait for the final book of the series knowing that it will be far in the future.

What makes book 2 stand apart is some of the self-awareness of Kvothe. He understands things about himself that inform the text and story. When he reflects back he has a “little did I know” care toward his own actions. This book also introduces readers to two new cultures within the book. The handspeak of the Adem is a reminder of our own world that we make all share humanity, but culturally we can be light years away.

The Adem are such different people; different than Kvothe, who is Edema Ruh; they think him a “whore,” because of the way he uses and shares his words. Whereas as a culture, they have no problem with sleeping with whoever they want, whenever they want to. And also for all the advanced thought and understanding they have of the world they do not believe that men are involved in the production of children and mock Kvothe for such belief. I think this is where Rothfuss shows intelligence in his writing. Too often the thoughtful, meditative culture is seen as far superior to all other cultures. Here however they are short-sighted and mistaken about important, even elementary things.

As I mentioned above the second book leads to important questions that are different from questions I might have asked after the first question. Although we are still left wondering what king he killed, we are also now wondering at Denna’s patron, what happened after the University, does Kvothe become an arcanist and much more. As I mentioned above it will be a long while before these questions are answered. However, I look forward to the way Kvothe tells the tale. I also look forward to learning more of Bast and the Chronicler as their pasts have mysteriously been silent. I don’t know that I will read this entire 1,000 page book again before the next book, but doubt that I need to as the story Rothfuss has begun was told so well that I remember it quite well.

2015: The Bark of the Bog Owl: The Wilderking Trilogy – Jonathan Rogers

I have mixed feelings toward The Bark of the Bog Owl. In one sense I obviously enjoyed the book since I devoured it quite quickly. The other part of me just found the storytelling a bit lacking and even heavy-handed. Part of this has to do with it being a children’s book, another has to do with being a rather dramatic telling of the story of King David from the Old Testament, albeit a very loose telling. I think one of the more difficult things to swallow with Bark is the incongruence of pretty archaic lifestyles and tanks. Where did the tanks come from?

Those kinds of thing really get to me in a story. Whenever a world is established you tend to know the rules that accompany it. If the story is modern you know the world is like you are currently experiencing. If the world is future you know the writer is freedom to do all sorts of crazy things. If the story is Victorian they need to follow through with certain conventions. But then Rogers introduces tanks, or at the very least cannons to the biblical world. That was just strange.

It is also strange for a 12-year old to be a nearly unflawed hero. Aiden just does not really make mistakes and I don’t get that. I also don’t get how his brothers just jump from railing the guy about being the king to honoring him as such. There are other leaps too as this group of people all of a sudden aid their normal enemies without any warning. There is some allusion to why they did it, but it is not well explained.

These are the things that bother me with Bark. It’s not that the story isn’t compelling…it is. It’s not that overall his writing is sloppy…it’s not. It’s simply that Rogers ignores certain conventions that readers take for granted and you have to stop in the middle of a story and ask, “How did they come up with the technology for tanks, let alone the technology to transport the tanks to an island, and how did a 12-year old figure out how to destroy them when a whole ton of adults were thinking, ‘Oh no…we’re going to die!!!’” That makes for difficulties to give a ring endorsement.

All of that said, will I read the second book? Yes. I believe I have already even purchased it. Rogers knows how to retell this story in such a way that I know generally what to expect, but have no idea how he is going to present it or bring about solution. So far we have the prophet proclaiming him the king and we have Goliath gone. That is where we leave off. I look forward to battles, and Bathsheba and Jonathan, and the mighty men, but don’t know exactly how Rogers will bring those things about, which is to his credit that he is not just going to lift the text and try to present it as fresh. This is where Rogers surpasses a lot of “Christian writers” who do not display the originality that he does.